By Jim Hagerty
For decades, anger management classes have been filled with individuals who’ve lost a battle with heightened emotions . “Flying off the handle” has become a cliché in domestic abuse cases, employee shootings and street fights. Anger management seems to be in high demand.
While millions agree that controlling anger is the only way to stop ourselves from making split-second decisions complicated by horrific consequences, others fail to lay blame where it belongs. Anger, as defined, isn’t responsible for the fury involved in losing control and bulldozing everything in one’s path.
Anger is a healthy emotion and almost always can be harnessed to facilitate positive change, even in the midst of the seemingly impossible. It’s when anger’s ugly counterpart rage takes over that situations go from difficult to destructive.
According to mental health professionals, anger and rage are as different as night and day, apples and oranges—monkeys and kittens. Healthy anger is not used to berate, belittle, punish or shame. Rage destroys and will dismantle anything salvageable in an emotionally heightened moment.
Origins of rage
In modern society, we categorize a rampaging person as one with serious psychological issues, even evil. While true in some cases, a woman who loses control in slow traffic, where expletives and single-digit salutes abound, can find the root of her rage in the same place as a spree-killer will find his.
Rage, therapists claim, is a shame- and fear-based expression of anger. Feelings of fear, guilt, inadequacy and shame have the abilities to instantly turn healthy anger into rage.
“Many people believe that explosive and volatile anger is a sign of power (and) confidence,” David Decker of ANGEResources notes. “In fact, this is not the case at all. Rage and disrespectful anger actually come out of a deep sense of powerlessness, inadequacy, and despair. Another word for that place is shame.”
Children spend years hearing direct statements like, “Men don’t cry,” “You should be ashamed of yourself,” “I’ll give you something to cry about,” and “What is wrong with you?”
Being shamed leaves a lasting, bio-chemical imprint and can stunt emotional growth patterns. As adults, when situations trigger those emotions, healthy anger takes a menacing back seat.
“Children often feel that it’s not OK to be angry,” social worker Julie Logan said. “If children don’t learn how to express anger, they will internalize that they are not worthy of having their needs met because there is something wrong with them. This prevents them from setting boundaries with adults and as adults. Healthy anger is to step back, recognize it and ask for our needs to be met. We must also understand and accept that we may not get what we want.”
From the Aug. 25-31, 2010 issue